Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge » Scott's Last Expedition skip to primary navigation skip to content
 

 

Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for December, 1910

A FRESH MS. BOOK. 1910-11

Wednesday, December 28th, 1910

On the Flyleaf
‘And in regions far
Such heroes bring ye forth
As those from whom we came
And plant our name
Under that star
Not known unto our North.’
‘To the Virginian Voyage.’
DRAYTON.

‘But be the workemen what they may be, let us speake of the worke; that is, the true greatnesse of Kingdom and estates; and the meanes thereof.’
BACON.

Tuesday, December 27th 1910 9pm

Tuesday, December 27th, 1910

9 P.M.- One of the ponies went down to-night. He has been down before. It may mean nothing; on the other hand it is not a circumstance of good omen.

Otherwise there is nothing further to record, and I close this volume of my Journal under circumstances which cannot be considered cheerful.

Tuesday, December 27th 1910 6pm

Tuesday, December 27th, 1910

Later, 6 P.M. – The wind has backed from S.E. to E.S.E. and the swell is going down – this seems to argue open water in the first but not in the second direction and that the course we pursue is a good one on the whole.

The sky is clearing but the wind still gusty, force 4 to 7; the ice has frozen a little and we’ve made no progress since noon.

Tuesday, December 27th 1910

Tuesday, December 27th, 1910


Dead reckoning 69º 12′ S., 178º 18′ W. We made nearly 2 miles in the first watch–half push, half drift. Then the ship was again held up. In the middle the ice was close around, even pressing on us, and we didn’t move a yard. The wind steadily increased and has been blowing a moderate gale, shifting in direction to E.S.E. We are reduced to lower topsails.

In the morning watch we began to move again, the ice opening out with the usual astonishing absence of reason. We have made a mile or two in a westerly direction in the same manner as yesterday. The floes seem a little smaller, but our outlook is very limited; there is a thick haze, and the only fact that can be known is that there are pools of water at intervals for a mile or two in the direction in which we go.

Dr. Wilson and Lieut. Pennell salting seal skins. Dec. 27th 1910Dr. Wilson and Lieut. Pennell salting seal skins. Dec. 27th 1910

We commence to move between two floes, make 200 or 300 yards, and are then brought up bows on to a large lump. This may mean a wait of anything from ten minutes to half an hour, whilst the ship swings round, falls away, and drifts to leeward. When clear she forges ahead again and the operation is repeated. Occasionally when she can get a little way on she cracks the obstacle and slowly passes through it. There is a distinct swell–very long, very low. I counted the period as about nine seconds. Everyone says the ice is breaking up. I have not seen any distinct evidence myself, but Wilson saw a large floe which had recently cracked into four pieces in such a position that the ship could not have caused it. The breaking up of the big floes is certainly a hopeful sign.

‘I have written quite a lot about the pack ice when under ordinary conditions I should have passed it with few words. But you will scarcely be surprised when I tell you what an obstacle we have found it on this occasion.’

I was thinking during the gale last night that our position might be a great deal worse than it is. We were lying amongst the floes perfectly peacefully whilst the wind howled through the rigging. One felt quite free from anxiety as to the ship, the sails, the bergs or ice pressures. One calmly went below and slept in the greatest comfort. One thought of the ponies, but after all, horses have been carried for all time in small ships, and often enough for very long voyages. The Eastern Party [4] will certainly benefit by any delay we may make; for them the later they get to King Edward’s Land the better. The depot journey of the Western Party will be curtailed, but even so if we can get landed in January there should be time for a good deal of work. One must confess that things might be a great deal worse and there would be little to disturb one if one’s release was certain, say in a week’s time.

I’m afraid the ice-house is not going on so well as it might. There is some mould on the mutton and the beef is tainted. There is a distinct smell. The house has been opened by order when the temperature has fallen below 28º. I thought the effect would be to ‘harden up’ the meat, but apparently we need air circulation. When the temperature goes down to-night we shall probably take the beef out of the house and put a wind sail in to clear the atmosphere. If this does not improve matters we must hang more carcasses in the rigging.

Monday, December 26th 1910

Monday, December 26th, 1910

Obs. 69º 9′ S., 178º 13′ W. Made good 48 hours, S. 35 E. 10′.–The position to-night is very cheerless. All hope that this easterly wind will open the pack seems to have vanished. We are surrounded with compacted floes of immense area. Openings appear between these floes and we slide crab-like from one to another with long delays between. It is difficult to keep hope alive. There are streaks of water sky over open leads to the north, but everywhere to the south we have the uniform white sky. The day has been overcast and the wind force 3 to 5 from the E.N.E.–snow has fallen from time to time. There could scarcely be a more dreary prospect for the eye to rest upon.

As I lay in my bunk last night I seemed to note a measured crush on the brash ice, and to-day first it was reported that the floes had become smaller, and then we seemed to note a sort of measured send alongside the ship. There may be a long low swell, but it is not helping us apparently; to-night the floes around are indisputably as large as ever and I see little sign of their breaking or becoming less tightly locked.

It is a very, very trying time.

We have managed to make 2 or 3 miles in a S.W. (?) direction under sail by alternately throwing her aback, then filling sail and pressing through the narrow leads; probably this will scarcely make up for our drift. It’s all very disheartening. The bright side is that everyone is prepared to exert himself to the utmost–however poor the result of our labours may show.

Rennick got a sounding again to-day, 1843 fathoms.

One is much struck by our inability to find a cause for the periodic opening and closing of the floes. One wonders whether there is a reason to be found in tidal movement. In general, however, it seems to show that our conditions are governed by remote causes. Somewhere well north or south of us the wind may be blowing in some other direction, tending to press up or release pressure; then again such sheets of open water as those through which we passed to the north afford space into which bodies of pack can be pushed. The exasperating uncertainty of one’s mind in such captivity is due to ignorance of its cause and inability to predict the effect of changes of wind. One can only vaguely comprehend that things are happening far beyond our horizon which directly affect our situation.

Sunday, December 25th, 1910 Christmas Day Midnight

Sunday, December 25th, 1910

Midnight. –To-night the air is thick with falling snow; the temperature 28º. It is cold and slushy without.

A merry evening has just concluded. We had an excellent dinner: tomato soup, penguin breast stewed as an entrèe, roast beef, plum-pudding, and mince pies, asparagus, champagne, port and liqueurs–a festive menu. Dinner began at 6 and ended at 7. For five hours the company has been sitting round the table singing lustily; we haven’t much talent, but everyone has contributed more or less, ‘and the choruses are deafening. It is rather a surprising circumstance that such an unmusical party should be so keen on singing. On Xmas night it was kept up till 1 A.M., and no work is done without a chanty. I don’t know if you have ever heard sea chanties being sung. The merchant sailors have quite a repertoire, and invariably call on it when getting up anchor or hoisting sails. Often as not they are sung in a flat and throaty style, but the effect when a number of men break into the chorus is generally inspiriting.’

The men had dinner at midday–much the same fare, but with beer and some whisky to drink. They seem to have enjoyed themselves much. Evidently the men’s deck contains a very merry band.

There are three groups of penguins roosting on the floes quite close to the ship. I made the total number of birds 39. We could easily capture these birds, and so it is evident that food can always be obtained in the pack.

To-night I noticed a skua gull settle on an upturned block of ice at the edge of the floe on which several penguins were preparing for rest. It is a fact that the latter held a noisy confabulation with the skua as subject–then they advanced as a body towards it; within a few paces the foremost penguin halted and turned, and then the others pushed him on towards the skua. One after another they jibbed at being first to approach their enemy, and it was only with much chattering and mutual support that they gradually edged towards him.

They couldn’t reach him as he was perched on a block, but when they got quite close the skua, who up to that time had appeared quite unconcerned, flapped away a few yards and settled close on the other side of the group of penguins. The latter turned and repeated their former tactics until the skua finally flapped away altogether. It really was extraordinarily interesting to watch the timorous protesting movements of the penguins. The frame of mind producing every action could be so easily imagined and put into human sentiments.
On the other side of the ship part of another group of penguins were quarrelling for the possession of a small pressure block which offered only the most insecure foothold. The scrambling antics to secure the point of vantage, the ousting of the bird in possession, and the incontinent loss of balance and position as each bird reached the summit of his ambition was almost as entertaining as the episode of the skua. Truly these little creatures afford much amusement.

Sunday, December 25th, 1910 Christmas Day

Sunday, December 25th, 1910

Dead reckoning 69º 5′ S., 178º 30′ E. The night before last I had bright hopes that this Christmas Day would see us in open water. The scene is altogether too Christmassy. Ice surrounds us, low nimbus clouds intermittently discharging light snow flakes obscure the sky, here and there small pools of open water throw shafts of black shadow on to the cloud–this black predominates in the direction from whence we have come, elsewhere the white haze of ice blink is pervading.

We are captured. We do practically nothing under sail to push through, and could do little under steam, and at each step forward the possibility of advance seems to lessen.

The wind which has persisted from the west for so long fell light last night, and to-day comes from the N.E. by N., a steady breeze from 2 to 3 in force. Since one must have hope, ours is pinned to the possible effect of a continuance of easterly wind. Again the call is for patience and again patience. Here at least we seem to enjoy full security. The ice is so thin that it could not hurt by pressure–there are no bergs within reasonable distance–indeed the thinness of the ice is one of the most tantalising conditions. In spite of the unpropitious prospect everyone on board is cheerful and one foresees a merry dinner to-night.

The mess is gaily decorated with our various banners. There was full attendance at the Service this morning and a lusty singing of hymns.

Should we now try to go east or west?

I have been trying to go west because the majority of tracks lie that side and no one has encountered such hard conditions as ours–otherwise there is nothing to point to this direction, and all through the last week the prospect to the west has seemed less promising than in other directions; in spite of orders to steer to the S.W. when possible it has been impossible to push in that direction.

An event of Christmas was the production of a family by Crean’s rabbit. She gave birth to 17, it is said, and Crean has given away 22!
I don’t know what will become of the parent or family; at present they are warm and snug enough, tucked away in the fodder under the forecastle.

Saturday, December 24th 1910, Christmas Eve

Saturday, December 24th, 1910

69º 1′ S., 178º 29′ W. S. 22 E. 29′; C. Crozier 551′. Alas! alas! at 7 A.M. this morning we were brought up with a solid sheet of pack extending in all directions, save that from which we had come. I must honestly own that I turned in at three thinking we had come to the end of our troubles; I had a suspicion of anxiety when I thought of the size of the floes, but I didn’t for a moment suspect we should get into thick pack again behind those great sheets of open water.

All went well till four, when the white wall again appeared ahead–at five all leads ended and we entered the pack; at seven we were close up to an immense composite floe, about as big as any we’ve seen. She wouldn’t skirt the edge of this and she wouldn’t go through it. There was nothing to do but to stop and bank fires. How do we stand?–Any day or hour the floes may open up, leaving a road to further open water to the south, but there is no guarantee that one would not be hung up again and again in this manner as long as these great floes exist. In a fortnight’s time the floes will have crumbled somewhat, and in many places the ship will be able to penetrate them.

What to do under these circumstances calls for the most difficult decision.

If one lets fires out it means a dead loss of over 2 tons, when the boiler has to be heated again. But this 2 tons would only cover a day under banked fires, so that for anything longer than twenty-four hours it is economy to put the fires out. At each stoppage one is called upon to decide whether it is to be for more or less than twenty-four hours.

Last night we got some five or six hours of good going ahead–but it has to be remembered that this costs 2 tons of coal in addition to that expended in doing the distance.

If one waits one probably drifts north–in all other respects conditions ought to be improving, except that the southern edge of the pack will be steadly augmenting.

Rough Summary of Current in Pack

Dec. Current Wind
11-12 S. 48 E. 12′? N. by W. 3 to 5
13-14 N. 20 W. 2′ N.W. by W. 0-2
14-15 N. 2 E. 5.2′ S.W. 1-2
15-17 apparently little current variable light
20-21 N. 32 E. 9.4 N.W. to W.S.W. 4 to 6
21-22 N. 5 E. 8.5 West 4 to 5

The above seems to show that the drift is generally with the wind. We have had a predominance of westerly winds in a region where a predominance of easterly might be expected.
Now that we have an easterly, what will be the result?

Terra NovaTerra NovaTerra NovaTerra NovaTerra NovaTerra Nova

Friday, December 23th 1910 (After midnight)

Friday, December 23rd, 1910

Steam was reported ready at 11 P.M. After some pushing to and fro we wriggled out of our ice prison and followed a lead to opener waters.

We have come into a region where the open water exceeds the ice; the former lies in great irregular pools 3 or 4 miles or more across and connecting with many leads. The latter, and the fact is puzzling, still contain floes of enormous dimensions; we have just passed one which is at least 2 miles in diameter. In such a scattered sea we cannot go direct, but often have to make longish detours; but on the whole in calm water and with a favouring wind we make good progress. With the sea even as open as we find it here it is astonishing to find the floes so large, and clearly there cannot be a southerly swell. The floes have water pools as described this afternoon, and none average more than 2 feet in thickness. We have two or three bergs in sight.

Friday, December 23th 1910

Friday, December 23rd, 1910

The wind fell light at about ten last night and the ship swung round. Sail was set on the fore, and she pushed a few hundred yards to the north, but soon became jammed again. This brought us dead to windward of and close to a large berg with the wind steadily increasing. Not a very pleasant position, but also not one that caused much alarm. We set all sail, and with this help the ship slowly carried the pack round, pivoting on the berg until, as the pressure relieved, she slid out into the open water close to the berg. Here it was possible to ‘wear ship,’ and we saw a fair prospect of getting away to the east and afterwards south. Following the leads up we made excellent progress during the morning watch, and early in the forenoon turned south, and then south-west.

We had made 8 1/2′ S. 22 E. and about 5′ S.S.W. by 1 P.M., and could see a long lead of water to the south, cut off only by a broad strip of floe with many water holes in it: a composite floe. There was just a chance of getting through, but we have stuck half-way, advance and retreat equally impossible under sail alone. Steam has been ordered but will not be ready till near midnight. Shall we be out of the pack by Christmas Eve?

The floes to-day have been larger but thin and very sodden. There are extensive water pools showing in patches on the surface, and one notes some that run in line as though extending from cracks; also here and there close water-free cracks can be seen. Such floes might well be termed ‘composite’ floes, since they evidently consist of old floes which have been frozen together–the junction being concealed by more recent snow falls.

A month ago it would probably have been difficult to detect inequalities or differences in the nature of the parts of the floes, but now the younger ice has become waterlogged and is melting rapidly, hence the pools.

I am inclined to think that nearly all the large floes as well as many of the smaller ones are ‘composite,’ and this would seem to show that the cementing of two floes does not necessarily mean a line of weakness, provided the difference in the thickness of the cemented floes is not too great; of course, young ice or even a single season’s sea ice cannot become firmly attached to the thick old bay floes, and hence one finds these isolated even at this season of the year.

Very little can happen in the personal affairs of our company in this comparatively dull time, but it is good to see the steady progress that proceeds unconsciously in cementing the happy relationship that exists between the members of the party. Never could there have been a greater freedom from quarrels and trouble of all sorts. I have not heard a harsh word or seen a black look. A spirit of tolerance and good humour pervades the whole community, and it is glorious to realise that men can live under conditions of hardship, monotony, and danger in such bountiful good comradeship.

Preparations are now being made for Christmas festivities. It is curious to think that we have already passed the longest day in the southern year.

Saw a whale this morning–estimated 25 to 30 feet. Wilson thinks a new species. Find Adèlie penguins in batches of twenty or so. Do not remember having seen so many together in the pack.